Constipation occurs when a person passes less than three bowel movements a week, or has difficult bowel movements.

What is constipation?

Constipation occurs in a few different ways; the muscle contractions in your intestines may be too slow to push the stool out of your body, or there is not enough water in your stool to soften it so it can move through the intestines. Not being able to go to the bathroom can get very uncomfortable and painful, but that is not the only risk. Constipation can come with other health hazards, such as fecal impaction and hemorrhoids.  It is important to minimize these risks by incorporating these simple ways to beat constipation into your daily lifestyle.

  • High Fiber Diet
  • Stay Hydrated
  • Exercise Routinely
  • Reduce Stress
  • Go to the restroom when you feel the urge.
  • Try to get bowel movements on a daily schedule.

Symptoms of Constipation

Constipation is a symptom, not a disease. The exact definition of constipation is problematic. Patients and doctors often define constipation differently. Doctors relate primarily to the frequency of bowel movements in a given time period (usually per week). Patients usually relate to the effort required (straining), to the consistency of the stool (hard), and to the feeling that they cannot entirely empty themselves.

If constipation is associated with ‘acute symptoms’ such as severe, worsening abdominal pain, extreme abdominal swelling, fever, nausea and vomiting, or if new-onset constipation occurs in an older person who is usually regular an immediate medical consultation should be obtained.

Most cases of constipation are chronic, having lasted for years, and are not associated with ‘acute symptoms.’ It is usually related to a functional bowel disorder, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, there are other possible causes of chronic constipation including medication use, hormonal problems, pelvic floor disorders, neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease, and other conditions.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Constipation

Some of the tests and procedures used to diagnose chronic constipation include:

  • Examination of the rectum and lower, or sigmoid, colon (sigmoidoscopy).
  • Examination of the rectum and entire colon (colonoscopy).
  • Evaluation of anal sphincter muscle function (anorectal manometry).
  • Evaluation of how well food moves through the colon (colonic transit study).
  • An X-ray of the rectum during defecation (defecography).

Treatment for chronic constipation usually begins with diet and lifestyle changes meant to increase the speed at which stool moves through your intestines. If those changes don’t help, your doctor may recommend various medications or surgery.

Please contact our Gastroenterology Specialists for diagnosis and treatment of constipation. To schedule a consultation, call 605.217.5500.